absentfather

Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Archive for the tag “Tokyo”

Up Town Tokyo in a Typhoon

Dear G, B and E

I’m writing this somewhere over Siberia on my way home from Tokyo.

My first stop was Seoul yet again, but I didn’t really do much to speak of except work and walk. I spent a lot of my time on my own, exercising when I could and relaxing when I could. The trouble with attending events (this one was in the Coex centre in Gangnam) and being in meetings is that the rest of your work has less time to be done but is still there. So I’m a bit behind and very anxious about some of it, mostly because it is in preparation for my next trip with the man who could sack me if he wanted to. But that is just life at work, I think everyone feels like they could be doing more or doing it better.

The “glorious leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Un has been posturing to the world recently and developing nuclear weapons. He’s been firing missiles over Japan and generally provoking everyone. This is not great when the idiot who is Donald Trump is president of the USA and is as measured and intelligent as an angry bull. So going to South Korea when mock military operations are underway seems risky as tensions and rhetoric are amplified. Seoul would be razed to ashes in 24 minutes should war start according to their strategists. Surprisingly, when you are in South Korea, the locals are talking about celebrities and the latest scandal involving a senior executive at tech giant Samsung, they couldn’t give a hoot about the nutter up North.

Very cool bookshop in COEX Mall, Seoul

After three days I flew to Taipei for presentations and then took the bullet train to Kaohsiung (industrial city in the south) to visit a university. The Taiwan High Speed Rail is fantastic, just like in Japan and I travelled the length of the island in 1 hour and 24 minutes. Super easy, super clean, super smooth. It was baking hot as I got shown around. The university is owned by a steel magnate who is a billionaire and also owns hospitals and entertainment companies. He has builtthe largest mall in Asia there with a theme park attached. Huge Ferris wheel dominates the skyline and it is tacky in a way only that part of Asia can do. Lots of pale pink and blue flashing lights, lots of shoddy workmanship and terrible sculptures of giant comic characters.

High Speed Rail and Casino in. university, Taiwan

The university is the only one I know that has a casino for education purposes (to train croupiers], which was a little strange considering casinos are illegal in Taiwan. The graduates go to Macau or SIngapore or elsewhere. I had some productive discussions and then had a lovely Japanese lunch in the shopping mall. There is a slide that you can take down three floors in instead of the escalator!

Onward to Tokyo, which I haven’t visited in a few years. It was freezing cold and constantly raining, because A giant typhoon was making it’s way to the island nation as a little treat for me. Taxis are prohibitively expensive in Japan and the public transport is so good that everyone tends to use it. I took the Sky Liner fast train from Narita Airport to Nippori station and then to Shinjuku where my hotel was. Still a 5 minute walk in which time I got soaked to the bone.

Japanese toilets are fantastic. They are electronic with heated seats, they can spray water in a cleaning function, then dry, then perfume your nether regions! Then flush when you stand because they have a sensor. I want one.

The approaching storm detracted from the pleasure I have previously had walking around Tokyo and just soaking up all the crazy and marvelling at the unexpected. Instead it was a constant sea of umbrellas and shuffling with wet feet. I went to the Shibuya Crossing where 5000 people cross every 3 minutes and got mesmerised by that again. I stopped at noodle bars and “sushi go around” restaurants for delicious and cheap food when I needed refuelling.

Shibuya scramble crossing, Tokyo

On the Saturday I visited Asato Goto, a fashion designer, at her studio near Roppongi, the most expensive area of Tokyo. She lives in an “old” wooden house, which is 30 years old. I told her that Morton Hill was over 300 years old and she laughed. She’s a really interesting character and we just talked about life for 2 hours over a very Japanese soup she made. Japanese people live in such tiny spaces, usually just 1 or 2 small rooms with tatami mat floors and roll out futons for beds. Tokyo is an absolute tangle of buildings taking up every inch of available space and it comes at a premium.

Asato in her studio

I walked around Meguro and found some of the crazy things I expected, like dog hotels, where you can rent puppies to pet. Went into a toy shop that had Japanese manga style dolls, Godzillas and the latest crazy crazes.

”Dog hotel”

The following day I went out for dinner with a couple of English guys who do the same work as me. We went to an isakaya, which is a Japanese pub. You order food on an iPad. We then went to Golden Gai which is a really interesting area of Shinjuku which was established as a bar district after world war II. It has 280 different bars in 140 buildings over 7 small streets. The bars each only seat about 6 people and are personalised by the owners so they all have their own feel. Some don’t allow foreigners in them, some almost only get “gaijen” as customers. After that we went for a traditional karaoke session. Karaoke businesses are everywhere and are vast, some with hundreds of rooms. You can order in food and they even supply outfits if you want to dress up.

The typhoon was raging by now with the rain coming heavy and sideways. I got a notification to tell me my flight home was delayed the next day, so was dreading it being cancelled but fortunately it passed over Tokyo beforehand and by the time I got to the airport it was blue skies. The only time it didn’t rain the whole time I was in Japan!

Pops had a fall on a walk and was taken in an ambulance to hospital, but is apparently ok. I’m going to see him, straight from the airport, hopefully back at his and Ouma’s house and not the hospital. I feel guilty for being away at these times and not being any use.

Eleanor has learnt to crawl whilst I’ve been away, but only in a kind of commando shuffle, I’ve seen evidence by video call. You guys are on half term so I’ve taken the week off to have some time with you before another trip to China, the one I’m dreading. Looking forward to some hugs when I see you later tonight.

Love

Dad x

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Seoul Food

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Dear George,

The tour of east Asia continues and I am nearly at the end, here in Tokyo. It is cherry blossom season and the branches are heavy with white and pink blooms; enthusiastic photographers aiming their expensive telephoto lenses at them from tripods in the park. Tokyo is a relief after Beijing, only three days there is enough for me.

This work trip has lasted two weeks and my first stop was Seoul, Korea. It wouldn’t be a normal trip for me if there wasn’t imminent doom predicted, and the tensions between North and South Korea are at a peak. All rhetoric of course and it was hardly mentioned during my stay. I worked solidly for 6 days, my only down time was at the gym and being taken out to Korean BBQ restaurants by clients. It is always a BBQ restaurant and you have to act as though it is something really special for you each time. After three nights of it, I was ready for something less time consuming and more western, but the BBQ kept coming. Some guidelines: marinated beef is best, followed by chicken followed by pork, which is generally really fatty and sometimes still has hair on it. They cook the skin too. The places with genuine charcoal are my favourite as the heat is homely and the popping fuel makes it feel more authentic. Grab a leaf, add some rice, a bit of spicy paste and some snipped up meat then shove it in your mouth. Wash down with local beer, makoli (fermented rice alcoholic drink that looks like milk. All the cool kids mix it with lemonade) or soju if you are feeling brave. Of course, it is accompanied with kimchi and pickles.

One exception was a trip to Korea House, a heritage site surrounded by traditional gardens and serving food made from centuries old recipe books. It is fine dining, Korean style and is quite an experience. Boxes with many compartments containing shredded vegetables, pickles and meats arrive for you to build miniature pancakes with. Baked abalone, seafood soup, meat patties, kimchi and sweetened nuts all make up an 11 course menu washed down with tea. The setting makes it a unique experience.

Then on to Beiijng, a city that is changing at an incredible rate. When I first went to China in 2005, I was still a little bit of a novelty, kids stopping me in the street to have their photo taken with me. There was 16RMB to the pound and I couldn’t spend money however hard I tried. A bottle of beer was about 30 pence and a hotel room in the middle of the city was about £40 a night. Now beer is £5 a bottle and hotels don’t come much cheaper than £150. I was staying in Haidian, a student district, and was struck by the massive increase in foreign students there – hundreds of American, British, Russian and Korean kids taking the opportunity to experience China and learn Chinese.

My hotel was hosting some snooker players playing in the China Masters, so I was eating breakfast next to sports celebrities (in the UK and China anyway) every morning.

I met up with a friend one evening and went to Hohai lake for dinner and drinks. We went into the hutongs behind the main drag and found Bed bar, a converted peasant house that now charges £4 for a mojito and you sit on beds to drink them. We ate some Vietnamese food and went to a bar owned by an American couple. Just shows how Beijing is now a very different city to a decade ago – truly international. We whinged about the dirty air, the traffic and the spitting taxi drivers, but it was fun.

I arrived in Tokyo last night and love this city. It’s efficient, convenient, massive and bonkers. When your mum and I first came here in 2002 we felt like we had landed on mars, but things are a little easier now. The subway has English signs for a start. As always, I’ve got a pretty packed schedule, but I’m looking forward to the food, maybe a run around a park and hopefully something cultural one morning.

Love

Dad

Pictures:
Seoul food
The gardens at Korea House
Snooker players in Beijing
A funny sign at a university in Seoul
The view out of my hotel over Shinagawa station in Tokyo

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